The climate deniers Microsoft helped re-elect

Microsoft says it wants climate justice. It also spent $200,000 helping bring climate deniers to power in 2020.

Clockwise from upper left: Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Sen. John Barrasso, Sen. Roger Wicker, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and Sen. Rand Paul are all part of the class of climate change deniers Microsoft helped re-elect in 2020. Image sources: CSPAN/NBC/Getty/CQ Roll Call.

After the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol last month, tech giant Microsoft paused all its political contributions. The company wanted to reassess its priorities.

On Friday, Microsoft released a new political giving policy. It officially suspends all Microsoft PAC donations to lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results for the next two years. The company said it will also cut off “State officials and organizations who supported such objections or suggested the election should be overturned.”

These changes are a big step forward in the fight against disinformation. They show that big corporations—which have historically shunned litmus tests for political giving—can admit that some lies are simply too big and dangerous to support.

But what about other big, dangerous lies? What about the lie that humans don’t cause climate change?

Microsoft’s new policy doesn’t touch that one, and it reveals how far corporations still need to go to address their own responsibility for deadly political propaganda. Because while election fraud might be the “big lie” of the moment, it’s not the only big lie Microsoft routinely fuels with its political giving.

A HEATED analysis of OpenSecrets data shows Microsoft funded an astonishing number of lawmakers who promote the “big lie” of climate science denial over the 2020 election cycle. The lawmakers they helped re-elect included several Republican Senators who voted “no” on a 2015 amendment stating climate change is real and caused by humans.

This is especially notable considering Microsoft frequently promotes itself as a warrior for climate justice. Journalists often hail the company as a climate change “leader” with “astonishing” goals.

HEATED sent several requests to Microsoft asking how the company defends its contributions to climate deniers now that it has disavowed contributions to election deniers. We did not receive a response. But we have received comment from Microsoft before on this issue. The company’s past response is after the jump.

$114K to 11 climate-denying senators in 2020

During the 2020 election cycle, Microsoft spent at least $114,000 funding the elections of at least 11 climate-denying U.S. Senators. Donations include:

$25,000 to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Mitch McConnell is one of the biggest climate villains in America. He has given fossil fuel interests disproportionate power over U.S. elections; packed U.S. courts with anti-climate judges; and aggressively targeted climate legislation and regulation directly.

McConnell voted against the 2015 amendment stating climate change was real and human-caused. He continued to deny the science in an interview with Kentucky Sports Radio:

“What I have said repeatedly is I am not a scientist. But what I can tell you is, even if you thought that was important—and there are some scientists who do and some scientists who don't—but even if you thought that was important, the United States doing this by itself is going to have zero impact ... it's not a yes or no question. I am not a scientist ... There are different opinions among scientists.”

Microsoft gave McConnell $10,000 in direct contributions, $10,000 to the McConnell for Majority Leader Committee PAC, and $5,000 to McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee during the 2020 election cycle.

$12,500 to Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)

"The climate is constantly changing. The role human activity plays is not known," Barrasso told The Hill in 2014. Barrasso voted against the 2015 amendment stating climate change was real and human-caused.

Barrasso is now leading the way on a more sophisticated type of climate denial, where he says climate change is human-caused, but denies that fossil fuels are the primary problem.

Microsoft gave $10,000 to Barrasso’s Common Values PAC and $2,500 to Barrasso and Steve Daines’s (R-MT) Cowboy Victory Committee during the 2020 election cycle.

$10,000 to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS)

Wicker is one of the most outspoken climate deniers in the Senate. In 2015, Mashable described him as the only senator “more skeptical of the reality of manmade global warming than Republican James Inhofe,” the Senator who tried to disprove the existence of climate change by bringing a snowball to the Senate floor. That’s because Wicker was the only Senators to vote “nay” on a 2015 amendment stating “climate change is real and not a hoax.” Mashable added:

Wicker has said on several occasions that there is no proven link between carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and temperature changes. He has also repeatedly said that there has been no global warming in the last 15 to 17 years. All of these points have been shot down in the scientific literature, time and time again.

Wicker also voted against the 2015 amendment stating climate change was real and human-caused. He continues to deny climate science frequently.

Microsoft gave $10,000 to Wicker’s Responsibility & Freedom Work PAC during the 2020 election cycle.

$10,000 to Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT)

Daines voted against the 2015 amendment stating climate change was real and human-caused. In 2019, he said “to suggest that [climate change] human-caused is not a sound scientific conclusion."

Microsoft gave $7,500 to Daines’s Big Sky Opportunity PAC and $2,500 to Daines’s and Barrasso’s Cowboy Victory Committee.

$10,000 to Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)

Hoeven voted against the 2015 amendment stating climate change was real and human-caused. This was weird, because it was actually Hoeven’s own amendment. But Hoeven voted against it once it became clear that the Senate was actually going to pass it. His “no” vote allowed the amendment to fail, falling one vote short of a two-thirds majority.

Hoeven has largely avoided talking about climate change directly, but denied the certainty of the science during a 2009 hearing, saying “Well, the science shows that there is warming. There are different opinions to what exactly is the cause of it.”

Microsoft gave $10,000 to Hoeven’s Dakota PAC during the 2020 election cycle.

$10,000 to Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

Senate Majority Whip John Thune tries to act like he’s not a climate science denier. He is. Thune is only willing to say human activity is partly the cause of modern climate change. Thune also voted against the 2015 amendment stating climate change was real and human-caused.

Asked by POLITICO about climate change in 2010, Thune replied: “I'm not sure. "I think there's a real mix of data on that.”

Microsoft gave $10,000 to Thune’s Heartland Values PAC during the 2020 election cycle.

$10,000 to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)

"There isn't any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the earth,” Blunt said in 2009. Blunt also voted against the 2015 amendment stating climate change was real and human-caused.

Microsoft gave $10,000 to Blunt’s Rely on Your Beliefs PAC during the 2020 election cycle.

$9,000 to Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)

Lee voted against the 2015 amendment stating climate change was real and human-caused. He also denied the scientific consensus during a 2017 hearing. Lee then denied that he denied it in an argument with this reporter on Twitter.

Lee also said in 2019 that the real solution to climate change is to “fall in love, get married, and have some kids.

Microsoft gave $9,000 to Lee’s Lead Encourage Elect PAC during the 2020 election cycle.

$7,500 to Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND)

Cramer “defines himself as a climate change skeptic,” the New York Times reported in 2016.

Microsoft gave $7,500 to Cramer’s Badlands PAC

$5,000 to Sen. Todd Young (R-IN)

In 2014, Young said that it is “not necessarily the case” that there is a scientific consensus on climate change. In 2019, he said there is “some impact” from humans, but would not admit that humans are the primary driver: “I believe the climate is changing. I believe that all flora fauna and human beings have some impact on that.”

Microsoft gave $5,000 to Young’s All Hands PAC.

$5,000 to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

Paul actually voted yes to the 2015 resolution stating climate change was real and human-caused. It’s pretty clear he doesn’t accept the threat’s serious reality, though:

Microsoft gave $5,000 to Paul’s Reinventing a New Direction PAC.

$85K to 4 climate-denying U.S. Representatives

Microsoft also spent at least $85,000 funding the election campaigns of four notable climate-denying members of the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2020 election cycle. (HEATED’s analysis of Representatives only included those who received $10,000 or more from Microsoft; otherwise this would have taken forever). Donations include:

$30,000 to Steve Scalise (R-LA)

House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise denied climate science as recently as 2019, telling CBS News: “the earth's temperature changes—it goes up and down … In the 1970's, they said we were entering a new cooling period.”

Microsoft gave $10,000 to the Scalise Leadership Fund, $10,000 to Scalise’s Eye of the Tiger PAC, and $10,000 in direct contributions during the 2020 election cycle.

$25,000 to Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)

“I think there are changes in the environment. There are a lot of items to contribute to it,” House Minority Leader McCarthy told The Wall Street Journal in 2014 when asked if he thinks humans cause climate change.

McCarthy is now trying to push for a conservative effort to fight climate change, but only because he fears the party is losing voters over it. He still does not admit to the reality of the threat or that fossil fuels are the primary problem.

Microsoft gave $10,000 to McCarthy’s Majority Committee PAC, $5,000 to the McCarthy Victory Fund, and $10,000 to McCarthy directly in the 2020 election cycle.

$20,000 to Kevin Brady (R-TX)

Brady promotes climate denial on his Facebook page.

Microsoft gave $10,000 to Brady’s Making America Prosperous PAC and $10,000 to Brady directly during the 2020 election cycle.

$10,000 to Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)

Blackburn is one of the most outspoken climate science deniers in the House. She famously “debated” Bill Nye the Science Guy over the existence of global warming on Meet the Press in 2014. During that debate, Blackburn said people need to focus more on “the benefits of carbon.

Blackburn has continued to deny the science, telling CNN’s Chris Cuomo in 2016 that there is “still debate .. about the participation of human beings.

Microsoft gave $10,000 to MARSHA PAC during the 2020 election cycle.

Microsoft’s defense: “It’s unlikely we’ll agree on every issue.”

HEATED has written about Microsoft's support of climate change deniers a few times before, with Judd Legum of the newsletter Popular Information. The last time we wrote about it, Microsoft gave us this statement:

We recognize that to make progress on the issues that matter to our customers and to our business, we must engage with candidates and officeholders who hold a range of views. Given the breadth of our policy agenda, it’s unlikely we’ll agree on every issue, but we’ve learned that engagement—even when individuals hold different positions—is an essential part of achieving progress.

Since then, Microsoft has decided it doesn't actually have to engage with candidates and officeholders who hold a "range of views" on certain positions, if those positions are in fact big lies that stoke violence or harm.

Experts: climate denial is a dangerous lie, on par with election denial

Several experts on climate disinformation told HEATED that climate denial is a dangerous big lie on par with election denial, posing serious threat to human health and well-being across the world, and that it has the potential to stoke violence.

John Cook, an assistant research professor at George Mason University who studies climate misinformation, told HEATED that corporations are displaying “a complacent attitude about climate misinformation” by continuing to fund climate deniers.

“Corporations—including social media platforms—need to take climate misinformation as seriously as they take election and COVID misinformation,” he said, adding that “corporate-funded misinformation campaigns have helped delay sorely needed climate policy for decades.”

Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, agreed that corporate decisions on climate change are an urgent issue. She said climate disinformation is “dangerous on multiple levels”—including that it prevents policy action to prevent deadly consequences.

But a lack of climate policy wasn’t her only concern.

“On a very basic moral level,” she said, “I think spreading disinformation with no accountability rots something within a society.”

We’ll update you if we receive a response from Microsoft in the future.

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